As a psychotherapist, I resuscitate souls. I tear down the layers of self that some well-meaning adult worked so hard to construct:

Be quiet. (Use your words. Talk loudly and often.)

Color in the lines. (Take a risk. Be yourself.)

Don’t cry. (Let it flow. The more snot, the better.)

Don’t be selfish. (It’s healthy and necessary to love and take care of yourself.)

Be strong. (Be human, messy and vulnerable.)

Shame on you. (It’s okay to make mistakes, grow and learn.)

Be your best self. (Be your full self.)

Be nice. (Be authentic.)

Be good. (Be relational.)

Don’t be angry. (Bring your aggression.)

Take turns. (Interrupt.)

Don’t take too much space. (Be as big as you can be.)

Happily ever after. (Full-range of feelings, challenging, near impossible, worthwhile.)

Don’t get me wrong. Hats off to every big person who pours energy into a little person. Developing humans is not a job for the faint of heart. And, the kindergartener coloring outside the lines, while a nuisance to the teacher, is a gift to the world. A free spirit on a path of unadulterated expression.

My son was one of those. Uncontainable. A parent’s headache, a teacher’s nightmare. By the time has was in fifth grade, his reputation had the head start. IEP meetings and phone calls from the school principal earned a place in my weekly planner. And they were not calling to compliment his by-the-book coloring.

Then came a sleepy Thursday morning in his eighth-grade year. Yet another boring parent-teacher meeting to try and get my son to fall in line. I had grown used to the mumbo-jumbo. The years of critical assessment of my son’s many challenges had left my mind numb and my heart cynical. I had resigned to the idea that anyone in the system would believe in my son. Team Aidan was a one-person squad – me.

“Let’s check this box. I’ve got better things to do today,” I told myself.

As the meeting started, the door opened. In walked Ms. Bufkin, my son’s fifty-something unkempt history teacher. Her left hand was without a wedding band. I imagined she went home to a few cats and stacks of ungraded papers. She found the single remaining chair and settled into the nonsense. She clearly did not want to be there either. She must have drawn the short stick as the one mandated teacher representative to the special needs team.

As my mind wandered to the rest of my day, Ms. Bufkin chimed into the chatter.

“You know Aidan is a genius …”

The room went silent. My heart perked up.

I have no idea what Ms. Bufkin said after that. Or anyone else for that matter. A warm blanket had just cradled my lonely mama self. I held back tears while wanting to stand and scream. Someone else sees my son! Someone else chooses to look past his many distracting antics and miscuing behaviors to see his intelligence and creativity.

My son did complete high school. Not without expected bumps, but he got that piece of paper. And he’s an artist. A culinary mastermind. A lead chef at the age of twenty-one. I could not be prouder.

It’s never too late. Your original self is waiting excitedly. Go ahead. Pick a color. Ms. Bufkin and I are on your team.

For the rise of your life …